Like you, I have too many fly boxes. This could mean I carry too many flies but I doubt it. In fact, I probably have just enough of a selection to always have the right fly. My primary challenge is to recall a specific fly's existence at the right moment and then find the damned thing.
Most of the fly boxes I own are the new type with foam slots. While they're easier to use than the old style boxes, they invite chaos. I can put nymphs next to dries and midges next to Hendricksons. If you were to look at my "streamer" box you would also find a dozen bass poppers, some damsel fly nymphs and a couple of big honking dry flies among classic and contemporary streamers. Strangely, you would not find a half dozen purple woolly buggers tied last month that should be here but are living in sin elsewhere.
These slots have increased the effort to find just the right fly many fold. Times were simpler a decade ago when I was still using the old-fangled compartment boxes. At least each type had its place. Adams were with the Adamses and Pheasant Tails were all together in their place. While I'd have all the sizes of one family swizzled in one interhooked mess, at least I could find the right fly before accidentally dumping half a dozen in the river.
I blame another fly box innovation for most of my recent fly selecting problems. Magnets. The same guys who created the "Bugger Barn", the one with all the bass poppers in it, also created the "Day's Worth" fly box. For those who are unfamiliar, one side of this diminutive case has a foam strip to which a small selection of dries can be lodged and the other has a magnetic sheet where countless flies can be anchored.
This is, in fact, the finest fly box ever created. It's small enough to sneak into a shirt pocket and as long as you're not fishing a hopper hatch or slinging triple jointed Galloups, will actually hold all the flies you need for a day. The simplicity of design is pleasing and convenience is undeniable. But that magnet is its own level of hell.
There are a few concessions to be made if you wish to embrace the Day's Worth worldview. First, you have to preselect your flies. To go to the stream with one box, the height of hubris, you need to have enough options to cover both the expected and the serendipitous. So in goes a selection of impressionistic attractors. And then something for the surface and the subsurface and everything in between. And then those gaps on the magnetic field make your selections look sorta lonely so in go a dozen zebra midges and brassies and WD40s to fill in the empty spaces.
If you're lucky, these flies get you through the day and put fish on the line. But then you go on another trip. And you have to preselect your flies again. And I've found that while I can always find an excuse for putting a few new flies in to deal with a new hatch or a unique aspect of a different stream, I rarely find an excuse for taking one or more flies out of that box. It is the black hole of fly boxes. I even have flies that have been torn into unfishable clumps of fur and biot that I still allow to nestle in among the others. My quest to simplify my fly boxes ended in the madness of the overloaded, single fly box in which all things were stored and few were available.
This spring I got out my "guide" pack and restocked it with all the boxes that had previously been dismissed. I reacquainted myself with many flies that I hadn't fished in a year or two. Who knew I had so many Parachute Adams and there were the Hendrickson emergers that I knew I had but could never quite put my hands on. I still have the Day's Worth box but it's been cleaned out, tidied up and wedged down near the bottom. I'm now more likely to reach for a compartment box that will have what I want instead of what's available. It's not a nod to the past or any sort of nostalgia. It's simply a step back towards sanity.
Steve lives and fishes in western Connecticut. When not tending to blisters from hiking with his son he writes at sippingemergers.com and on dead trees for various magazines.